The Region 3-AAA basketball titles are on the line this evening with a pair of Bradley County teams facing our neighbors to the north in the championship games.
The action will tip off at 6 p.m. at Rhea County High School with the Bradley Central and McMinn County girls taking the hardwood first, followed by the Cleveland and McMinn County boys.
Winners of 13 straight games, the Bearettes have posted their best record since the 1998-99 season, which happens to be the last time Bradley faced the Lady Cherokees in a region final.
The impressive 26-5 record under first-year head coach Jason Reuter comes on the heels of just the second losing season (15-17) in program history.
With no seniors on the roster, Bradley starts four juniors and a freshman, and two of their first three players off the bench are a sophomore and a freshman.
“If you would have told me at the start of the season we’d be 26-5 and playing for a region championship, I probably would have laughed,” expressed Reuter after his team held third-ranked Walker Valley scoreless in the fourth period to claim a 39-32 victory in Saturday’s semifinal round.
Looking to add the region crown to go along with last week’s District 5-AAA title, Bradley defeated McMinn County (14-18) twice during the regular season and once in last week’s district semifinals.
While the margin of victories have been 26, 31 and 32 points, coach Reuter said his team will not underestimate the Lady Cherokees. “They have come a long way this season and Coach (Tim) McPhail has done a great job. They were the No. 4 seed from our district and here they are in the region championship.”
Voted the District 5-AAA Coach of the Year, McPhail led his team to an upset of District 6-AAA champ Coffee County in the region opener and a 47-46 victory over 5-AAA runner-up Cleveland in Saturday’s semifinals.
McMinn County will be going for its first region title since the 2002-03 season, while the Bearettes played for the 3-AAA crown three years ago. Bradley has not won a region title since the 2003-04 season when it defeated Cumberland County 50-29.
Both local teams advance to Saturday’s TSSAA Sectional Playoffs where they will face either top-ranked Riverdale (30-1) or Blackman (23-5) which handed the Lady Warriors their only loss of the season in last week’s district semifinals.
Riverdale knocked of fourth-ranked Lawrence County 66-44 Monday night to advance to the Region 4-AAA title game, while Blackman downed Seigel 57-46. The region champs will play host to the runners-up Saturday at 7 p.m. local time.
Tonight’s boys’ championship should be a barn burner as the Cherokees have defeated the Blue Raiders twice this season, including last week’s one-point district semifinal game which saw McMinn rally with four points in the final 1.7 seconds.
The Cherokees (19-10) also won 63-60 at the Raider Dome in early December while Cleveland (19-8) claimed a 13-point win in Athens in mid-January.
Coach Jason McCowan has his Raiders in the region title game for the third time in his four seasons at CHS. Cleveland won last year’s region championship by an 83-59 margin over Ooltewah.
Coach Keith Elliott, who was named the 5-AAA Coach of the Year, has never won a district or region tournament championship in his 19 seasons at McMinn County.
The Raiders and Cherokees will both play in sub-state games Monday against either Siegel, Riverdale, Lawrence County or LaVergne.